Last week the U.S. Senate Appropriations committee highlighted the need to drive innovation through federal investments. This week, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce committee led by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Michigan, and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colorado, launched a new initiative called “A Path to 21st Century Cures.” This new initiative brought together leaders from the government, non-profit sector and private industry, including Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, Janet Woodcock, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research and Jeff Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, to discuss how these different groups can work together to speed up the process of discovery, development and delivery.
The representatives on the committee were particularly interested in what steps Congress could take to change policies that would help accelerate the nation’s ability to bring cures to patients. Similar to the Senate’s innovation hearing, Collins reiterated that stable, predictable funding is key to maintaining the success of the U.S. biomedical research enterprise. He also cited that the loss of greater than 20 percent of the NIH’s purchasing power over the past decade means that American scientists have been dealing with budget cuts over this time while other countries are increasing their research investment. Rep. DeGette agreed with Collins’s assessment and mentioned that stable research in the U.S. also affects the rest of the world.
However, Rep. DeGette and several members on the committee pointed out that throwing more money at the NIH would not necessarily solve all of the problems and asked how policies should be restructured to benefit the institute, the FDA and other federal agencies. Suggestions from the participants included streamlining administrative regulations, generating an easier path to develop partnerships between academia and industry, having better ways of data sharing between clinicians and supporting clinical networks to improve clinical trials.
While the discussion centered mainly on health concerns for the nation and finding cures to diseases, the importance of pure basic research was voiced. Joe Gray, the associate director for translational research at the Knight Cancer Institute at the Oregon Health and Science University, said that many drugs do not work as expected because biological systems are highly complex and more basic research needs to be conducted to understand these complexities in order to produce more effective drug therapies. Similarly, Jonathan Leff, chairman of the Deerfield Institute, said that decades of investment in pure basic research is what leads to breakthroughs in science and, ultimately, what brings treatments to patients.
This is the first of many discussions that are scheduled to take place over the next few years. The committee is eager to hear from the scientific community. A white paper was issued with open-ended questions and comments are being collected until June 1. To view the discussion in its entirety, a video archive can be found here.
We will be following future discussions on this topic and sharing our concerns on the future of the U.S. biomedical enterprise. Follow the Policy Blotter to keep up to date and learn how you can participate in our efforts!